Making the best of a rotten situation

Linc Rinkenberger started his career in the rural building industry with FBi Buildings, working in the company’s service department. He handled customers’ warranty claims, negotiating settlements for steel or fasteners that needed to be replaced. He also replaced posts that had rotted to the point of concern, but was never quite pleased with the ultimate solution. “We always stuck wood back in the ground, and it looked kind of shabby,” he says. “At the time, that was the only fix. Today we have another avenue.”
About a 1-1/2 years ago, Rinkenberger took a job with Meyer Building Corp. in Craigville, Ind., looking to move closer to the Fort Wayne area where he grew up. He also was looking for a chance to work with a different type of post retrofit product that keeps wood out of the ground, the Perma-Column. “It’s totally transformed the post changeout,” he says.
Post changeouts keep Rinkenberger and his retrofit crews plenty busy. He says he has seen rotted posts in buildings erected by just about every major company that builds in the Midwest, and the building owners most often seeking him out are farmers.

The customers
“Post-frame has really taken off in commercial applications in the last 10-15 years,” Rinkenberger says. “But where we’re seeing the problems is in the ag buildings, they’re the focus of a lot of the changeouts. I feel that back (when the buildings were erected) there were issues with the amount of wood that was treated, and how it was treated. From what I’ve heard wood treatments were skimped on, especially back in those times.”
Rinkenberger says most buildings that are candidates for post changeouts are between 20 and 30 years old. The issue, in Rinkenberger’s view, is the treatment of choice used to treat posts. “My take is the posts treated back in the ’60s with creosote, those posts seem to be holding out real well,” he says. “In the ’70s, they switched treatments, especially with the salt treatment, that’s a critical thing right there. I have not yet seen any 0.6 or 0.8 (pcf) CCA posts rotted off, that came in during the mid-’80s.”
When building owners call Rinkenberger, they are more disappointed than angry. “They’re a little bit surprised, because they were told these posts would last forever, or at least 40 or 50 years,” he says. “They’re not up in arms or going crazy, but they’re concerned. They want to know how they can fix the problem, and make it a lasting fix.”
The search for a lasting fix resonates more with farmers than with other post-frame customers, Rinkenberger says, because farmers tend to own buildings for multiple generations, rather than leave them every five years or so like the typical homeowner. Replacing the posts is a more cost-effective solution than putting up a new building. “If you’re looking at a new building, it can be anywhere from $10-$15 per square foot, maybe higher or lower,” he says. “On an average post changeout you’re probably looking at $200-$250 a post. You do have to replace skirtboards and do things like that, but for the most part it’s simple.”

The process
Simple, but time-consuming and labor-intensive. Like any building project, a proper post changeout requires a great deal of advance planning and coordination among crew members, and skipping steps in the process is not feasible.
Tools necessary for a post changeout are by no means exotic, and should be accessible to most rural builders. First and foremost, says Rinkenberger, is a skid-steer with an auger to help remove the posts — “You can dig them out by hand, but it’s time-consuming and it’s not fun.” Also needed is a nail puller, a 20-ton bottle jack, and a saw capable of cutting the post, either a chainsaw or an 8-inch minimum circular saw.
The process starts when Rinkenberger gets a call from a building owner who thinks his building has rotted posts. Rinkenberger visits the building and digs down beside the post, about a spade’s worth, and it is usually obvious whether or not significant rotting has occurred. Other tests include sticking a prod or pounding a 16-penny nail into the post at ground level.
“From the ground level up 2 inches, down to about 10 inches or so below grade, that’s where we’re seeing the bulk of the problem,” he says. “Not every post in the building is rotted, it kind of jumps around here and there. For the most part, I would say half to two-thirds of the posts are showing signs of decay or are in serious need of help.”
Rinkenberger uses no scientific analysis to determine the state of the posts. “It’s a judgment call on behalf of myself and the customer,” he says. “If the customer doesn’t want to do it, it’s no sweat off my back. But if the building were to go down, it’s going to be a big mess, and instead of spending a couple hundred bucks a post, they’ll have to spend several thousand to build it back.”
The changeout begins by using a laser or transit to mark every post at about 1 foot above grade. “I hesitate to say it’s exactly 1 foot, it depends on whether there is solid rock under the building and other variables,” Rinkenberger says. “We shoot for a foot of Perma-Column out of the ground. When we mark the post, that is our target as to where to make the final cut.”
Detaching the siding and skirtboard from the posts is the next step. A big key here is to take off only as much skirtboard as can be reattached at the end of the workday. “I don’t recommend taking the skirtboard off all the way around the building,” says Rinkenberger. “If you do that, and a windstorm comes through, there are some negative possibilities there.”
Clearing out the rotted post comes next. For a building that does not have a concrete slab floor, workers can come inside the buildings and dig right in front of the post. A 24-inch diameter auger can punch a large enough hole in which to operate. “If the post is still attached, great; if not, you have room to work and clean out around the post so you can get down there,” Rinkenberger says. “If there’s no pad underneath the post, we recommend you put a concrete pad under there.”
While two workers dig around the post, others work securing the truss with a jack. Rinkenberger’s crew uses a jack comprised of a 2.5×2.5 quarter-inch piece of steel welded to the bottom of a 20-ton bottle jack. The crew takes three SYP 2x6s to the site and assembles a makeshift three-ply column with the center ply removed a foot or two down. They then jack the truss up about a quarter-inch.
Once the truss is secured, the post is cut off at the ground level, the stub removed, and the hole cleaned and prepped. Cutting the stub can be accomplished in different ways. Some crews use a chainsaw, others a circular saw. Rinkenberger’s crew assigns two people to hold back the metal siding while another uses the saw to cut the post.
Then it’s back to step 1: determining how much of the Perma-Column will stand above grade to ensure a uniform appearance throughout. Some holes will have an extra 6 inches to fill; the crew keeps #73 stone on hand to use as a pad base before placing the cookie. New Perma-Columns are then positioned and installed.
Once the new posts are in place, skirtboards need to be attached. Since most pre-existing skirtboards on these projects also have rotted, they need to be replaced with new materials, and current regulations stipulate these be treated with a wood preservative other than CCA. When using a skirtboard treated with a copper-based preservative, Rinkenberger recommends wrapping it with a barrier membrane so steel does not directly contact wood.
Typically, the entire post will not need to be removed. Rinkenberger says several times he has seen posts rotted 16 or 18 inches above grade, and one time removed an entire post, but those are the exceptions rather than the norm. Still, he says, “The best advice to anyone doing it is to be thorough. When I go to a jobsite I check every post. If you do an inside-outside inspection, you’ll be able to tell. Knock on the post, run some nails in.”

The labor
“We have five or six guys on a crew, and we have a system down,” says Rinkenberger. “They split up into two three-man crews sharing the Bobcat, with the driver in one area punching the posts, the other guys prepping.”
Rinkenberger says if a crew gets in a rhythm, changeouts take about an hour-and-a-half per post, although with the number of variables involved, from the skirtboard to the condition of the post below grade, it can take longer.
“It’s an easy job to do, but it’s a lot of work,” he says.

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